So last year, in that gap while I wasn’t blogging, I was still writing, and submitting my writing, and being published, though not in the usual sense.
Every year in November, the little town of Deloraine plays host to the world renowned (is it? I’m sure it must be!) Tasmanian Craft Fair. Deloraine I’m sure must be the creative hub of Tasmania – or one of them at least – and among the many artistic and creative endeavors are the sculptures scattered along either side of the main street.
Last year, writers from Deloraine and across Northern Tasmania were invited to pick a sculpture and write a short piece (short being the key – we were given an approximate figure of 30 words) in some way linked to the sculptures. There were all sorts of pieces – fiction and non-fiction, lists and stories. I was lucky enough to have two of my pieces chosen:
There were so many wonderful interpretations of the sculptures – I’m hoping they repeat the idea this year!
A couple of years ago I saw Kathryn Lomer in conversation with Cate Kennedy, a fantastic conversation about writing that encouraged me to buy at least one book by each of these fantastic authors. I bought ‘talk under water’by Kathryn, and loved it, so I was really looking forward to reading this one, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Spare Room is a beautiful story. Nineteen year old Akira has ben sent to Australia by his very stern, (an as Akira puts it himself) ‘very Japanese’ father. The plan is that Akira will learn English and will then be able to take over the international arm of his father’s company. But Akira has desires and plans of his own, and his time in Australia shows him that he can have a life outside of his father’s plans.
But there is another story here too. Akira has lost his closest friend, Satoshi, who could not take the pressure of his own father’s expectations. In Australia, there is something off about Akira’s host family. As time goes on Akira learns that they too have suffered their own loss, and to begin with at least, Akira’s presence is not helping the situation.
I love the way Kathryn expresses the struggle of learning a foreign language:
“You often want to say something entirely different but you are limited to the vocabulary you know and you have to try and construct something from the little that you have. A bit like trying to make a salad when you only have braising vegetables, or trying to build a boat using nails. You get kind of warped into the shape of the words you know. There is a big gap between what you think and what you say. It would be a long time before I felt that the real me, the one with ideas and opinions and funny stories to tell, could find his way out again. For a while that person was trapped inside a new language.”
(Sometimes I feel this way with English too… except English is my first language.)
This is a lovely story, of how complete strangers can help each other heal, and how facing our fears often helps us overcome them.
Some time ago I published the first of what I intended to be a short series on the writing of my novel. That post was ‘A Novel’s Inspiration‘ and here, finally, is post #2 – a brief account of the research that went into this novel.
First of all there were the bush walks – one of which inspired the story, the others which helped me with setting:
Then there was the reading, of which this pile accounts about 3/4 of the books I own, and not the many I borrowed from the library,
nor the countless articles I read online, nor the primary sources I found – mostly through Trove – such as this letter to the Colonial Times Newspaper – printed 26 Feb 1830*
And I can’t forget the practical experiences: such as tanning – my character Elspeth tans a kangaroo skin, thought it might be a bit big to start with so I went with something a bit smaller – a wallaby, (and if you’re wondering – I followed the instructions on this site, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out for a first attempt).
Which leads me to the Bush Foods Workshop led by two Indigenous Tasmanian women, where I learnt that bracken fern is good for jack-jumper bites, and crushed wattle seed smells like coffee, and the fruit of the pigface tastes a little like a salty fig while the leaves can be used in the same way we would use aloe vera (among many many other things). Most exciting was learning there are several species of edible natives in my backyard – which I’d looked at only weeks earlier and wondered ‘Can I eat that?’ Unfortunately by the time I learnt I could eat them it was too late – the goats had got to them first. Hopefully the goats didn’t completely destroy them, and they’ll grow back next year (fingers crossed!).
* For those trying to read this letter:
Mr Editor – Your desire for information respecting the Aborigines has induced me to state what I conceive to be a proper view of the matter. In our neighbourhood every day affords from proof of their determination to destroy, and their declaration to war with the whites. Whenever an opportunity presents itself they have invaded our district in almost every direction, during the last eight months, with considerable success as respects their hostile attacks, particularly in taking the lives of several individuals, and in having accomplished the ruin of whole families.
It is almost impossible for me to fathom how someone who had been living somewhere for such a short time can accuse the original inhabitants of ‘invading’ the district…
Late last year I attended the Tasmanian Readers and Writers Festivalin Hobart, where I listened to Cate Kennedy and Kathryn Lomerin conversation, and discovered this book. The next day I also attended Cate’s Masterclass, and I am so glad I did – what an amazing day – (you can read about it here). 🙂
The World Beneath is the story of a family in pieces. Sandy has been left to raise Sophie alone, while Rich follows his dream of travelling the world and photographing amazing places. But Sophie is 15 now, and Rich wants to reconnect with the daughter he barely knows. A bushwalk along Tasmania’s famous Overland Track seems like the answer.
What to write about this novel??
I’m a Tasmanian, who loves bushwalking, but I still haven’t been on the Overland Track. I’ve been to Cradle Mountain and enjoyed day walks in that area, and I’ve taken the ferry across Lake Sinclair to the southern most end of the track.
I’ve heard of all the names: Du Cane, Narcissus, Pine Valley, The Labyrinth; and I’ve seen amazing photos of the incredible landscapes to be found, and perhaps because of this, Cate’s story felt so familiar. I could ‘see’ every step of Sophie and her estranged father, Rich’s journey across the wilds of Tasmania, I understood the risks, the importance of heading weather warnings, and being prepared for any eventuality. I cringed when… well, that may be a spoiler, so I won’t finish that sentence – you’ll just have to read it for yourself _ I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.
Even Sandy’s story – a mother just trying her best – resonated with me. I loved her visit to the Goddess workshop; felt terribly sorry for her as she tried her best to deal (mostly in her imagination) with a domineering mother and judgmental friends.
This is a brilliant story about facing those inner-demons we all carry, and coming out stronger on the other side. I highly recommend reading this one!
If you’re a ‘liker’ of my Facebook Page, you would have seen the post last month about discovering ‘Tangara’ by Nan Chauncy in a box of books my grandmother gave me.
I posted at the time:
So my grandmother was clearing out some books and gave me two boxes full! In amongst the treasures I discovered ‘Tangara’ by Nan Chauncy. What a wonderful tale – a young white girl comes across a band of Aborigines living in the wilds of the Great Western Tiers cir. 1960’s and makes friends with one of the Aboriginal girls!
Now I’m still only part way through, so no spoilers please (though I have a sneaking suspicion the Aborigines are ghosts?? Praying I’m wrong, but still a good story even if that turns out to be the case.)
Now I’m still not going to give away any spoilers as to whether my hunches were right or not, but safe to say this is a fantastic story. There’s something ageless about the writing, something easy-to-read about it despite the fact it was published in 1960, and I really appreciated reading about so many places familiar to me – the Great Western Tiers for instance, an impressive mountain range stretching across the north coast of Tasmania, not too far from where I live.
Growing up I thought there were no books set in Tasmania, I thought my dream to be a published author was perhaps a bit of a long shot. Perhaps if I’d discovered Nan Chauncy’s books earlier (she has several others based in Tasmania, including ‘Mathinna’s People’, and ‘Tiger in the Bush’), my dream might not have felt so unattainable for so long.
“…it is often the silent who end up with the task of the telling. Perhaps it’s because, undeafened by the sound of their own voices, they’ve heard so much more.”
Yes, I’m reviewing another of Danielle Wood’s books. 🙂 I recently finished reading ‘The Alphabet of Light and Dark’, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 2002and it’s easy to see why. Reading Wood’s work you get the feeling that the sentences flow from the tip of her pen perfect and fully formed. The act of writing feels so easy as you are absorbed effortlessly into the tale.
This particular story really resonated with me at the moment, as the main character, Essie, is spending her days searching the past, trying to piece together the stories her grandfather told her so often, stories she has mostly forgotten, but of which she is reminded by the sea chest full of the trinkets to which the stories belong.
While I am not trying to recover half-remembered stories, I have been delving to the past as I research my latest WIP. Set in Tasmania, then called Van Diemen’s Land, in the 1830’s, my story features an indigenous character (with more on the periphery). But knowledge of the Tasmanian people is thin on the ground, as the focus was on removing them, rather than recording their culture, and so all we have is a smattering of history. In determining the narrative I am left to the same devices Essie is, opening herself up to let the ghosts of the past speak through her, hoping that the story that emerges is an accurate portrayal, if not of how life was, at least of how it might have been.
I wanted to show you my favouritist place in the whole world! (yes, I know favouritist isn’t a word lol – but it needed to be emphasised here)
This is The Paddocks (not quite it’s real name, but we can’t have everyone flooding the place!). I’ve been here about half a dozen times since my first visit almost 15 years ago. It’s a 5 hour walk – at a steady pace, although on saying that we did stop to admire the views a lot! I haven’t been here since before my son was born – I haven’t been on a bushwalk anywhere since before my son was born, at least 7 years ago!
The Paddocks is an absolutely glorious spot to go Bush Walking here in Tassie. It is the location in my story Sanctuary, as best I could describe it at the time. Description however, is not my strong point, so while I was there I set about practising that skill, taking particular notice of all the sights and sounds and smells. This is what I came up with…
Footfalls on the trail are muffled by the layer of leaf litter, broken occasionally by the crunch of twigs and and silenced by the soft spongy moss. Out in the open, crossing the paddocks – with their damnable button grass – is harder. The button grass grows in high clumps, close together, creating deep narrow ravines. The choices are to using the grass itself as stepping stones… sort of… or try and walk between the grasses, though when the base of the clump is halfway up to your knee this can be tricky (and what about snakes!!). Thankfully most of the paddocks have walking tracks where the button grass has been thinned out – but we did head ‘cross country’ a couple of times as we explored the area.
The scent changes; on the first day the sun shone brightly, warming the air and releasing the sweet scent of rotting leaves and hot moss, and surprising me with a fragrance that smelt distinctly of chai tea, even though none of the spices used in the drink grow here. On our way out the temperature had dropped. We had enjoyed a thunderstorm on our first night, listening to the sporadic rain on the tent, as the flashes of lightning lit up inside and the thunder rumbled almost instantly overhead. Rumbled is not strong enough actually. For a moment, at least, the storm was directly over head – and the thunder thundered! It didn’t roar, or roll, and rumble seems a far more gentle word for what we experienced. It boomed, cracked through the sky.
But I’ve digressed a little. Because of the thunderstorm, it was cooler on our way out. The air was cold, fresh, crisp. The myriad of scents obvious the previous day were muted now, barely there.
The scenery was as breathtaking as always. Everywhere is green – all different shades. And varying shades of grey and brown as well, from the tall trees with their moss covered bark to the wet rotting stumps. But now and again there is a surprise of colour. Fungi mostly, brightening the bark. The odd flower – tiny purple and white ones, some with yellow stamens. And out in the open there is the brilliant blue sky and the distant mottled green mountains.
And on our way out we took a fork in the path – one neither of us remembered being there, from our separate trips – and discovered the most amazing waterfall – so tall, absolutely stunning.
And now I’ve said my piece – I’ll show you a few snippets:
During our walk inspiration struck, a couple of times, and I managed to jot down a few ideas, including one for a historical novel, based in Tasmania during convict times, and including a bit of fantasy and magic too.
But that is not my most exciting news from my weekend – my most exciting news is that my gorgeous man (who suggested the bush walk in the first place) proposed to me on the banks of the river, as we paddled our sore and swollen feet in the icy water. OMG! It was the last thing I expected at that moment. A wonderful surprise! 😀
We’re heading into winter here in the Southern Hemisphere. The days are getting shorter, cooler (I wouldn’t say ‘colder’ yet, although we have had the odd chilly day). In spite of this, my little family and I seem to be getting out and about more than we did over the warmer months!
Yesterday marked the 100 anniversary of the Marakoopa Caves first tour. To celebrate they were offering free tours, so my partner and children and I went along. The tour guides were dressed in period costume, and as we wandered through the cave the lights were periodically switched off, to be replaced by small battery operated candle lights – given to the children in the group – to give us an idea of what those first tourists would have seen. Little compared to what our modern electric lights can reveal. My kids loved it – the little electric candles, the glow worms, the tiny crystals in the rock the reflected light from our guides torch. My daughter loved the stream or “river” as she called it, and it certainly sounded loud enough – I thought there was a waterfall ahead from the roar the water made as it travelled through the cave. Even the utter pitch blackness of the dark, as we stood a moment, failing in our struggle to see our hands in front of our faces did not scare them as I thought it might.
I read somewhere (possible The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), about the importance of making sure there is fresh inspiration. That as writers, we can only output what we input. I’ve been stuck indoors, editing various stories for a while now, with little fresh input to inspire me.
But last weekend, that changed. My dear partner and I decided to go for a bush walk. Or perhaps forest walk is a more accurate term. I love the Tassie Rainforest – the moss, and ferns, all the different fungi. It’s the home of fairy tales. You can almost see the fairies dancing in a circle under the mushrooms, or red riding hood skipping between the trees, Vasalisa getting directions from her doll on her way to Baba Yaga’s house. Fantasy is my forte, and while I don’t write about tiny fairies dancing under mushrooms, nor of the older fairy tales (though I think I might like to write something along those lines), the beauty of the forest sets my imagination whirling, and gives me that fresh input to enable me to find more stories to tell.
As mentioned in my previous post, I woke up Saturday morning to see snow on the nearby mountains. I knew it was there – the cloud cover the previous day, alongside the bitterly cold temperature told me it was snowing, but to see it – so early in the year – was still a surprise.
We had planned to go camping, and so we did, and 3 hours drive away we came to this:
And the next day, we went swimming. Well… maybe deep wading is a more accurate description. I got in above my waist – but the water was a bit cool, so I decided that was far enough. My daughter however happily went for a swim. Amazing how kids don’t feel the cold!
(I should add… after the swim I did a bit of sunbaking… not something I usually do, but the sun was warm and I knew we’re not going to get too much of that now winter is on it’s way (and early if you go by the top photo). And I got sunburnt – not much, but enough to sting under the shower…)